PROSE AND VERSE -
TWO RENDERINGS OF THE RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM
A COMPARISON OF TRANSLATIONS
EDWARD HERON-ALLEN AND ARTHUR B. TALBOT
PRODUCED AND PRESENTED BY CATE BARRATT AND DENIS DALY
Although the most famous, Edward Fitzgerald was neither the first nor the most scholarly translator of Omar's rubai. The strength of his work comes from his ability as a poet, his imaginative reconstruction of Omar's verse and the imposition of a narrative. Fitzgerald's Omar traces a path from an initial awakening, through stages of doubt, despair, self-indulgence, resignation and finally a sort of apotheosis. Later translators, who were more diligent scholars but lesser poets than Fitzgerald, such as Edward Whinfield, have provided much more extensive collections, which do contain some fine poetry, but which, lacking Fitzgerald's narrative drive, are anthologies rather than long poems. It is notable that many of these translators paid respect to Fitzgerald as a pioneer and innovator, and few were critical of the freedom with which he reconstructed Omar's verse.
Among these was Edward Heron-Allen (1861 –1943) polymath, writer, scientist and Persian scholar, whose prose translation of the Rubaiyat was published in 1898. The title page reads:
A Facsimile of the Manuscript in the Bodleian Library at Oxford,
with a Transcript into modern Persian Characters,
TRANSLATED, WITH AN INTRODUCTION AND NOTES,
AND A BIBLIOGRAPHY,
This collection contains 158 quatrains. By contrast, Fitzgerald's first edition contains a mere 75, and his longest edition, the second, contains 110. In the introduction, Heron-Allen describes the purpose of his translation thus:
It does not aim at being an edition of the Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam in general, but it is an attempt to place before English readers a literal translation of the oldest known MS. of the quatrains, and an exposition of the most important section of the material used by Fitzgerald in the construction of his poem.
Undoubtedly, the absence of versification does rob Omar's work of much of its suggestive power. However sonorous the language the effect is somewhat that of a sermon as opposed to an anthem, a discourse rather than a song. In 1908, Arthur B. Talbot addressed this insufficiency by producing a verse rendering of Heron-Allen's translation. Talbot was not the first to undertake such an exercise - in 1901 Charles G. Blanden published his Omar Resung, a versification of the copious prose translations of rubai by Justin Huntly McCarthy. Apart from this singular publication, Talbot, who displays considerable poetic ability in this work, is shrouded in obscurity.
In this recording the two versions have been mixed so that the translation of each verse by Heron-Allen is followed by its verse rendering by Talbot.
Introduction and verses by Talbot are performed by Cate Barratt.
Translation by Heron-Allen is performed by Denis Daly.
Musical excerpts have been taken from the following recording:
Introduction and Rondo capriccioso by Camille Saint-Saens
Performed by Elias Goldstein with the Depaul Symphony in Chicago
Recording issued under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence
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